Congestive heart failure Patient friendly summary

"Adults with decreased serum 25(OH)D [vitamin D] levels have significantly higher risk of death from [heart failure] and premature death, and this may beget additional justification for the study of vitamin D supplementation..."

~ Howard J. Eisen MD, chief of cardiology division at Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia

Heart failure is also called congestive heart failure (CHF).  CHF occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

Nearly 5 million Americans currently suffer from heart failure. Annually, about 550,000 new cases of CHF are now diagnosed and 300,000 die from the condition.

Risk factors

Risk factors for heart failure include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diseases that damage or weaken the heart muscle or valves

Heart failure is most common in people who are:

  • Greater than 65 years of age
  • African-American, Hispanic, and Native American (Generally, these groups have higher blood pressure and more diabetes than white Americans.)
  • Female

Sunlight exposure and risk of CHF

African-Americans may also have a higher risk of CHF because they have darker skin and lower vitamin D levels. African-Americans have 40% lower vitamin D blood levels than white Americans.

People living in the southern regions of Australia had a higher summer-winter difference in CHF mortality rates than those living in the northern regions. Solar ultraviolet-B (UVB) doses change more during the year in the southern regions than in the northern regions. This accounts for the seasonal variations in vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D and CHF

Vitamin D levels

A number of studies have found that people with CHF have lower vitamin D blood levels:

  • British infants who were dark-skinned and breast fed had CHF.
  • In Austria, people with suspected coronary heart disease and low vitamin D levels had nearly three times the risk of dying from CHF than those with adequate vitamin D levels.
  • Patients who received heart transplants appeared to have low vitamin D levels.
  • In two German studies, people with CHF and higher vitamin D levels had higher survival rates.

How vitamin D works

Vitamin D may lower the risk of CHF because it:

  • Reduces the risk of diseases that may lead to CHF (high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary heart disease)
  • Strengthens the heart muscle
  • Reduces inflammation

One study supports the theory that vitamin D reduces inflammation. Another study found little effect of vitamin D plus calcium supplements on CHF or quality of life.


There are no reported studies directly investigating increasing vitamin D levels to reduce the risk of CHF. However, observational studies support the fact that vitamin D may reduce the risk of CHF.

Based on studies of CHF and other diseases, it appears that vitamin D levels above 30–40 ng/mL (75–100 nmol/L) might reduce the risk of CHF.

Vitamin D and calcium

Children with rickets and severe heart failure can be successfully treated with vitamin D plus calcium.


The combination of vitamin D and calcium may help lower the risk of CHF. However, more studies are needed to confirm this.

Find out more...

Do you want to find out more and see the research upon which this summary is based?  Read our detailed evidence summary on Congestive heart failure.

Page last edited: 24 May 2011